Sin Nombre is a road movie cum Western. Or, rather, it’s a railroad movie and the ‘West’ – where innumerable migrants are headed on railroad wagons – is more accurately the ‘North’, the US. It’s a hazardous trek with physical and human perils; people fall by the wayside. The film’s general point is clear: these people are as steadfast and worthy as the real or mythical pioneers who colonized the west.
The plot is simple. Sayra, with her father and cousin and hundreds of others, hunkers down on the roofs of freight cars heading north from Honduras. Somewhere in Mexico a gang of youths work along the train robbing everyone. Sayra, defying her family, gets entangled with an ex-gang member.
In some ways we have classic Hollywood – a romance of sorts involving a beautiful young woman and a bad guy who comes good. There’s something too of Hitchcock’s marriage of thriller with visual storytelling and iconic imagery. But strong social awareness, and the emphasis on the migrant experience set it apart. The sight and sound of masses of people on freight wagons on the move is spectacular and humbling.
This is one hell of a début feature from a Californian with Japanese-American ancestry who’s previously made shorts about migration. Gripping, brutal and tender, understanding and sympathetic, it’s a socially conscious film that could change people’s attitudes. Sadly, because of the prejudice against films that aren’t in English, too few people will see it. Don’t miss out.
This article is from
the September 2009 issue
of New Internationalist.
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